From the St. Aiden’s Monastery blog, here’s a nice summary of what each week’s Advent candle symbolizes:
The Candles symbolize that Jesus is the Light of the World.
There are four candles, one for each Sunday leading to Christmas and a fifth candle for Christmas day. The four Sunday candles are usually tapers. There are variations in the colouring of the candles, often there are three purple and one pink candle. Occasionally, all of the candles are purple. The central candle is usually a large white pillar candle.
The purple represents repentance. The pink symbolizes joy. The central candle is called the Christ candle and is not lit until Christmas day. When you light the candle it is customary to read a few verses of scripture that relate to meaning of the candle. Often the person who lights the candle recites a short statement of belief and faith as the candle is lit and then everyone unites in prayer.
The First Candle (The Candle of Prophecy/Hope)
The first candle is sometimes called the candle of prophecy because it symbolizes the promises the prophets delivered as messages from God; promises that foretold Christ’s birth. Others consider the candle to be a symbol of the hope we have in Christ and so it is called the Hope candle.
The Second Candle (The Candle of the Way) [Light / Truth]
The second candle shows that Christ is the Way. Christians are lost in sin and Christ is the Light sent into the world to show them the way out of darkness.
UPDATED for 2014
The fact that this is one of the top 3 entries of all time on our blog with nearly 30,000 page views indicates that there is a LOT of interest in knowing about the symbolism of the Advent Wreath and the candles that are lit each week! The above blog post we linked back in 2008 doesn’t really give a very detailed overview. I originally posted it because I thought it provided good short Christ-centered explanations for each candle’s meaning.
There are MANY slightly different variations on the the meanings of each Advent Candle. (One explanation for that is that weekly Sunday lectionary readings for Advent rotate from year to year in a 3 year cycle, and each year represents slightly different themes in the readings.)
The excellent site FaithandWorship.com provides perhaps the best overview I’ve seen anywhere about the different variations in themes and meanings for the 4 weeks / 4 candles of Advent. There are 15 different variations of 4 themes listed, with Scripture passages included for each week:
Here are a few more good links which discuss the meaning and symbolism of the Advent Candles.
Short overviews about Advent Wreaths and the meaning of the Candles:
- Reformed Worship: Overview of the Advent Wreath
- Lifeway: Advent Celebrating the Coming of Christ
- Bible Basics: The Advent Wreath
- Christian Resource Institute: The Advent Wreath & Advent Candles
- ChurchYear.Net: What is the Season of Advent?
- Living Hope Church: The meaning of the Advcnt Wreath
- Patheos.com – The meaning of the Advent Candles
- PCTutorweb – The Meaning of Advent (includes prophetic verses and verses showing fulfilled prophecy for each week)
Prayers and readings for each week’s Advent Candle lighting:
- ChurchYear.Net – Advent Wreath Prayers and Scripture Readings
- King of Peace Episcopal Church: Advent Wreath Service
- Mark D. Roberts – Advent Devotional Guide (readings, prayers, song for each week’s candle lighting)
- ThisisChurch.com – very clear and simple liturgy for each week’s Advent candle lighting (does not include Scripture reading)
- Gnesiolutheran.com: Scripture Readings and Bible Study Questions for Each Week of Advent
We’d LOVE for readers to leave comments with links to good resources they find releated to Advent Wreaths and Candles! Thanks.